The O’Briens and The Derby

At Geegeez we’ve long recognised the value of statistics in helping to narrow down a field and identify winners. But every so often there’s an interesting stat that comes along that is entirely serendipitous and totally inconsequential in determining a selection for a race.

Take the case of the Epsom Derby, the O’Brien stables and a year from recent decades ending in the number 2. Quite simple really: an O’Brien trained horse was won four of the five since 1962. Here’s the record:

1962 Larkspur Vincent O’Brien
1972 Roberto Vincent O’Brien
1982 Golden Fleece Vincent O’Brien
1992 No entry in race
2002 High Chaparral Aidan O’Brien

Now the coincidence of this runs further than just the date as the two trainers just happen to share the same surname; there's no family connection between them.

So what price Camelot now?

Over the next few days we’ll look at each of these horses and their Derby in turn. But before we do that, let’s look at the wider Derby record of the O’Briens.

The Coolmore operation at Ballydoyle provided the base from which each worked, and between them they have trained eight Derby winners, Vincent six, and Aidan two.

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In 1968 Sir Ivor was VOB’s second Derby winner. By now Lester Piggott was a regular rider of his horses in the big races, and here he powered home the horse he described as the best he ever rode to justify odds of 4/5. Sir Ivor had a devastating finishing kick, which allowed him to finish a length and half ahead of Connaught, whom he only passed in the last 100 yards.

This was Sir Ivor’s sixth successive win, but it was followed by a run of four defeats, in the Irish Derby, Sandown’s Eclipse, and two in France might have led to a graceful retirement. There was a swansong, however, with late season wins in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket and the Washington International at Laurel Park in America.

Nijinsky followed in 1970. Many have described Nijinsky as the greatest horse ever, and I’m not going to dispute that. At Epsom Piggott held him back for much of the race before producing an astonishing burst of speed that posted what was then one of the fastest winning times (2 min 34.68 secs). One of the remarkable things about Nijinsky’s win was that it came after a bout of colic just two days before the race. Nijinsky went on to take the St Leger later in the year, which when added to his earlier win in the 2000 Guineas makes him the last winner of the Triple Crown, though in truth, it’s something few have attempted since.

In 1977 it was the turn of The Minstrel, again ridden by Lester Piggott. The battle up the straight between Piggott and Willie Carson on Hot Grove encapsulated my many memories of racing in the 1970s. Each jockey had his own style, with Carson all sound and fury in his urgings, a perpetual motion of energy. Meanwhile, Piggott always looked cool and in command, and here needed just one quickfire burst of the whip to get the better of his rival by a short head.

There was almost another success for VOB in 1984 when he sent El Gran Senor over for the Derby. Pat Eddery was riding this year, and O’Brien is reported to have told him, “The longer you wait, the further you’ll win by.” You couldn’t say that Eddery rode the odds on favourite precisely to those instructions, as the last two furlongs saw another ding-dong battle, with 14/1 chance Secreto getting up in a thrilling finish to win by a short head.

But this time, they were keeping it in the family, as VOB’s son, David, trained Secreto.

Go back two generations in Frankel’s pedigree and you’ll come to 2001 Derby winner Galileo. By now the hands of the reins at Ballydoyle had changed, and Galileo showed that AOB had the same knack as his predecessor. Galileo was a horse with both determination and lightning acceleration, and it was the latter of these attributes that put this Derby to bed with more than a furlong to go. Mick Kinane had him on the outside and just behind the leaders until the two-furlong pole, and once he asked him to go on the race was over in a matter of strides.

Do you remember any of these races? What’s your favourite Derby moment?

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2 replies
  1. Matt Bisogno says:

    Excellent post, Ian, and I really have no idea why people click the one star button on such quality commentary / entertainment.

    It’s childish and frustrating, but I supposed there are bad apples in every barrel.

    In any case, I certainly remember Galileo’s win though many of the others are memories only from the annual re-running of the tapes on the TV.

    Keep up the excellent work,

  2. IanS
    IanS says:

    Ah you young whippersnapper. But you’ll have memories in time of Derby winners I’ll never see.

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